More than a year after it was set up, the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) still lacks critical logistical equipment, especially air power, and is only at some 60% of its mandated strength, even as security in the war-torn Sudanese region worsens dramatically.
“The provision of outstanding equipment, in particular military helicopter assets, remains critical to increasing the mobility and operational impact of the mission,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says in his latest report to the Security Council, calling on member states that are in a position to provide these vital resources to do so without further delay, the UN News Service says.
Reviewing UNAMID`s operations for the months of December and January in a region where more than six years of fighting between the Government, allied militia and rebel groups have led to over 300 000 deaths and uprooted over 2.7 million people, Ban puts the mission`s current deployment at some 18 300 personnel out of a mandated 31 544.
Military personnel numbered 12 541 (64% of the mandated 19 555) as of 31 January, police 2639 (41% of its mandated 6432), and civilian personnel 3129 (56% of the mandated 5557), with government cooperation aiding a recent increase in deployment.
Despite significant improvement in moving equipment with the aid of five chartered planes and a United States airlift from Rwanda, Ban repeatedly stressed the logistical shortcomings at a time when Darfur is wracked by rebel offensives and government counter-attacks, including aerial bombardments, inter-tribal fighting, increasing violence against civilians, attacks on humanitarian workers, and crimes and carjackings against UN personnel.
“The mission`s actual operational impact has been limited by logistical constraints, inadequate supply of critical equipment and the continued absence of key military enabling units such as the medium transport units, an aerial reconnaissance unit, a level-2 hospital and 18 medium utility helicopters,” he writes.
“One area of particular concern relates to the readiness to deploy personnel by troop- and police-contributing countries,” he adds, noting that a wide range of equipment still needs to be procured and personnel need to be adequately trained and prepared prior to deployment.
“The state of maintenance of contingent-owned armoured personnel carriers is of particular concern and needs to be improved to provide robust mission force mobility.”
Ban specifically calls on Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Senegal, Thailand and Tanzania to deploy quickly their infantry battalions, which “would constitute a significant increase in the mission`s troop strength and thus its protection capability and ability to implement its core mandated tasks,” and urges donor states to provide necessary support for such deployment.
Summing up the overall security situation, he highlights the “dramatic deterioration” across Darfur, a region the size of France. “The escalation in the level of violence in Darfur signals an investment in conflict rather than a serious commitment to peaceful negotiations,” he says, stressing the need for a concerted effort by all involved to reach a comprehensive settlement.
He notes that during the reporting period, political progress was impeded by the military action of the rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), resumption of government air bombardments, and the general sense that all concerned were waiting for the decision of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on the Prosecutor`s application for an arrest warrant against Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on charges of war crimes in Darfur.
Some Sudanese officials have suggested that the government may redefine its relationship with the mission should an arrest warrant be issued. “While recognizing the importance of both peace and justice to the search for a solution in Darfur, member states have the responsibility to encourage the government of the Sudan to react responsibly to the International Criminal Court decision, and to engage with the Sudan in a way that brings forward the possibility of a political solution to the conflict,” Ban writes.
Beyond the conflict, he highlights the difficulties already besetting UNAMID, with carjackings increasing despite measures taken to reduce the problem, patrols being blocked by both government and rebel forces, and restrictions on air operations preventing the free movement of life-saving assistance by the UN and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
Figures for 2008 show an almost doubling of the number of violent attacks on humanitarian aid workers, with 277 vehicles hijacked (compared with 137 in 2007), 218 personnel abducted (147 in 2007), 192 premises attacked (93 in 2007) and 36 staff wounded (24 in 2007). In 2008, 11 staff were killed, with four still missing (13 died in 2007).
“These statistics are a stark reminder of the risks taken and the bravery shown by the aid community working throughout Darfur,” Ban declares, underscoring the positive role UNAMID has still managed to play.
“With limited capability at its disposal, over the reporting period UNAMID has nevertheless been able to make a difference on the ground. I applaud the efforts of UNAMID and troop-contributing countries in reaching 60 per cent of military deployment on 31 December 2008 in the face of enormous difficulties, including the volatile security situation in Darfur,” he states.
“The sustained cooperation of the Government of the Sudan during the past few months has been important in achieving this level of deployment.
International Criminal Court: No decision on al-Bashir
Meanwhile, the International Criminal Court (ICC) says it has not yet reached a decision on the application for an arrest warrant against al-Bashir on charges of war crimes in Darfur.
In a news release issued in The Hague, where the ICC is based, the Court stated that “no decision has yet been taken by the judges” concerning Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo`s application for such a warrant.
The UN News Centre says Moreno-Ocampo last July presented evidence to the Court against Sudan`s President for alleged war crimes in Darfur, including genocide, some three years after the UN Security Council requested him to investigate atrocities committed in the strife-torn region.
An estimated 300 000 people have died in Darfur, either through direct combat or because of disease, malnutrition or reduced life expectancy, over the past five years in Darfur, where rebels have been fighting Government forces and allied Arab militiamen, known as the Janjaweed, since 2003.
The Prosecutor has stated that he believes Al-Bashir “bears criminal responsibility in relation to 10 counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes,” and said the evidence presented shows that the President masterminded and implemented a plan to destroy in substantial part the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa groups, on account of their ethnicity.
Reuters says Sudan has ruled out handing over Bashir or two other Sudanese citizens previously indicted by the court for suspected war crimes in Darfur. But Bashir’s ability to travel outside Sudan will likely become difficult once an international arrest warrant is issued.
Sudan’s UN ambassador, Abdalmahmoud Abdalhaleem, dismissed the decision of the court. “It will mean nothing to us and doesn’t deserve ink with which it is written,” he told Reuters. “We will never be shaken by this criminal attempt to pollute our political life and sabotage our efforts for development and peace.”